There are some kinds of fevers that simply can’t be cured. Matt Tanner has one he just can’t shake, and doesn’t want to. It happens when he steps across the boundary line every weekend, as he’s been doing for most of his childhood and all of his adult life. He’s a gentleman, and he loves playing football. He also loves music – well, of course. As A&R Manager at Native Tongue Music Publishing and co-manager of the frankly excellent Oh Mercy, he knows a thing or two about great songs and hep young musical cats on the make. He also knows the pure joy of running out on to the field, of footy training tourism, of the unique tics and characters of the game, and the simple pleasure to be found in a new pair of boots. Whether travelling around the world for a training run with the New York Magpies, or across town to hunt down his favourite discontinued make of boot, Matt’s a man after our own heart – he just loves to have a kick.
It’s an inexplicable sensation that brings back a lifetime of footy memories in an instant. It conjures up every poignant moment you’ve played since junior footy – frost crunching under your boots when you run out onto the ground at 8.00am as an Under 12 player. Cut oranges that feel warm in your hand when your fingers are so cold you can’t feel them in Under 14s. Singing the song in the rooms after winning with so much gusto that your voice goes hoarse. Pie nights as an Under 16. Sneaking a can of beer after the game when you’re making up the numbers in a country reserves team when you’re still a junior.
At some point in the calendar year, usually in the really early part, it happens – it’s a flash of excitement, a strange tingle and instantly I find myself sucking in a deeper breath through my nose than I’ve taken in months. It’s a crossing of paths of two very distinct smells. The moment you get a noseful of deep heat and freshly cut grass. It just smells like footy.
I get asked why I still play footy at my age. Some people think I’m mad. Probably a lot of people. Maybe I’m hoping the memories of playing footy will stay fresh in my mind until I’m old. Maybe I just have a type of white line fever that I can’t shake.
Toby Martin from Youth Group, in his piece for this site (read it, it’s great) ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ described belonging or supporting a club as an expression of tribal identity. I’d agree with that, although I’d take it a step further a call it, for me, playing footy is almost a primal urge.
There is a moment in footy where you step over the boundary line and take the field at the start of a game that the rules change. Societal rules exist in a different form on the field. A fair and square hip and shoulder could never feel like a good thing if you dished out at the merch desk at a gig. Dragging someone to the ground while your holding their arms to their body until you hit the deck with them at the Big Day Out would probably start more than you could finish. You’d spend plenty of time down at the police station if you threw yourself around like that day to day. But on the footy field these feats are celebrated and lauded, and to be honest, they feel great.
Everyone who plays footy knows how the game goes. You dish it out and you cop it back, that’s part of the beauty of the game. Sure, sometimes you get someone a little high, or you cop a whack in the mouth, you turn around and call the bloke a “dickhead” and that you’ve got his number and you’ll see him again before the end of the game, but as the final siren goes, you shake hands and tell him ‘great game, good luck for the rest of the year’. The rules change back. Everything is normal again.
Clubs and their characters are pretty universal. You’ll often find an identical set of dynamics anywhere you play. There is the bloke that always has the best one-liners – head and shoulders above any of the other fellas. There is the bloke that will never do the stretches at training or before the game. There is a bloke at training that has to ‘win’ every drill or sprint or lap. There is a bloke who is always injured even though he never seems to actually get a game and of course, the fella that loves to spend time in the rooms after the game standing around with no towel wrapped around him post shower for 20 mins talking to everyone about the game trying to get their eye contact. I think most band managers that have been in the business long enough can recognize similar ‘characters’ in most bands too.
You’re mates with the blokes you play with at the club. You always make a few close friends. But on the field, you’re each others best mates and you only see your team colors on the field and footy is the glue that binds you.
At work, when not talking about work, you talk about footy – most conversations start and end with a quick game consultation depending on what team stands where and what day of the week it is. I know the footy teams of every booking agent I’ve worked with in Australia. You learn pretty quickly to pick and choose your moments to mention their team’s current form.
At footy, when not talking about footy, I find I’m talking about music. I know the bands that all my teammates loved, love still or used to be in. It’s not uncommon to recognize faces after a game, opposition team members who used to do sound at that venue or ran the generators at that festival, or the guy that played drums for five minutes in a band you went on tour with that time.
Music and footy. Those conversation topics can take you from your inner city music job to the outer eastern suburb oval running drills.
If I get the chance when I travel, I’ll drop into footy training. . ‘Footy tourism’ if you like – get involved if you get the chance. I’ve trained in NYC, Portland Oregon and I’m looking forward to having a run in Nashville later this year. Just take your boots and some shorts. Footy clubs never mind extra blokes on the track. Anywhere you go around Australia, or the world, if there is an amateur footy club, they’ll probably welcome you at training. I’d take a punt on them saying these exact words: ‘the more blokes on the track the better’. You’re trying to learn 30 blokes names in a couple of hours of training. Every club have half a dozen blokes with the same nicknames which makes it a little easier – there are ‘Hollywoods’, ‘Maccas’, ‘Robbos’ or ‘Sticks’ or the guy that get called by his two full names on the ground. A word of warning: some clubs train a lot harder than other, something I experienced with the New York Magpies last year. A couple of corkies at training and walking around NYC for the next few days wasn’t easy.
But ultimately, more than the ups and downs of the AFL club I support, more than the tabloid melodrama that is AFL, more than the brutal physical contact, more than the blokes you play with and the comraderie at the club, more than calling someone a dickhead on the field and then shaking hands at the end when the siren sounds. There is nothing like it.
I just love playing footy.
I bought a new pair of footy boots just before Christmas last year – a gift to myself. My favorite model of boot is no longer in production, but I found a brand new pair on Ebay. I drove right out into the suburbs (Melbourne people, I’m talking The Basin from East St Kilda!) and collected them off two very strange old people who had about 200 garden gnomes in their front yard. I opened them like an excited 12 year old on Christmas day – brand new leather smell – only a few weeks away from pre-season.
So how long am I going to keep playing footy? My wife would love to know but I think she gave up asking a few years ago now.
If I’m being honest, I don’t know the answer to this question, but you can’t buy a new pair of boots and use them for just one season. It just wouldn’t be fair on the boots.